Relatives of the victims of the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing denounced the British government Tuesday, after learning more about London's private contacts with Libya over the release of the only man convicted in the terrorist attack over Scotland that killed 190 Americans.
A confidential cable from the U.S. Embassy in London in 2008 reveals that Britain was concerned about its valuable business with the oil-rich North African nation if Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer, died in a Scottish prison where he was serving a life sentence.
"The British government was engaged in a charade," said Frank Duggan, president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, calling the news "disgusting but not unanticipated."
"It was some but not all of the Scottish politicians who let everyone down," he added, referring to Scottish claims that his release was based only on "compassionate" grounds.
"As devious and manipulative as they were, however, they were not as bad as the British diplomats and officials who claimed to have no part in this decision but are now shown to be advisers to the Libyans one year before the actual release of the murderer."
The cable from Richard LeBaron, the U.S. diplomat in charge of the embassy at the time, bluntly told the State Department, the Justice Department and other U.S. agencies of Britain's concern over Libyan threats.
"The Libyans have told HMG [Her Majesty's Government] that there will be 'enormous repercussions' for the [British]-Libyan bilateral relationship if Megrahi's early release is not handled properly," Mr. LeBaron wrote.
"At the same time, [the British government] had made clear to the Libyans, to the media, and to us that it will take no official position on Megrahi's early release."
He also described the conflict between the Scottish government, which had legal jurisdiction over al-Megrahi, and the British government, which has sole responsibility for foreign affairs.
"This is the first time [the British government] has had to deal with a foreign policy issue under the new arrangement," and it is "feeling its way forward, as are the Scottish," he said.
By the same token, U.S. officials could not directly approach their Scottish counterparts to pass on U.S. views.
"We need to find a channel for consultation and representation of U.S. government views on the matter to the Scottish government, should we wish to, while taking [British] equities into account," he said.
Mr. LeBaron also revealed that the British Foreign Office advised Libyan officials on how to apply for a compassionate release from Scotland, noting that Scotland had "never before granted compassionate release to a foreign national."
Another cable, which WikiLeaks released exclusively to the London newspaper, the Telegraph, quoted Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi thanking Queen Elizabeth II; Prince Andrew, Britain's trade envoy; and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown for their "brave decision" to aid in al-Megrahi's release from a life sentence in a Scottish prison.
Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie on Dec. 21, 1988, killing all 259 passengers and crew and 11 Scottish residents of the village.
A spokeswoman at the British Embassy in Washington told The Washington Times that the letter laying out the procedures for compassionate release, sent in October 2008 by senior Foreign Office official Bill Ramell, had been publicly released in October 2009. But it apparently drew little notice at the time.
She said officials of the current government, including Prime Minister David Cameron, had opposed the decision at the time, and that he had asked the head of the British Civil Service "to review papers held by the government to see if more needs to be published about the background to this decision to ensure the fullest possible explanation of the circumstances."
Speaking, as is customary, on the condition of anonymity, the spokeswoman said the review was ongoing and would be concluded "as soon as possible."
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